Middle East chaos - the view from Israel

Dr. Norman Bailey

The region's internecine conflicts are favorable to Israel in the short term, but create serious long-term uncertainties.

At this time, the chaos engulfing most of the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA) is actually favorable to Israel in the short- and perhaps medium-term. Hamas has been humbled for the third time. Hezbollah and Islamic State (IS) are busily killing each other and others. Egypt is effectively collaborating with Israel on security and intelligence matters. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are on the same side as Israel with reference to terrorist groups and the looming Iranian nuclear threat. Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Libya are essentially failed states and exist now only on maps. Turkey is enmeshed in a self-inflicted morass of domestic and regional conundrums with no obvious exits.

Israel is regionally dominant militarily and vibrant economically and technologically. It can do without the support of the European Union (EU) and although political relations with the United States are chilly, defense and security relations continue warm and close. Trade, investment and educational collaboration with the major countries of South Asia and the Far East: India, China, Japan and South Korea, has never been stronger and is increasing steadily. Chronic domestic political and social problems continue to fester, but are not acute.

But the short-term is just that. One thing we know is that circumstances will change. One thing we cannot know is the future. As a result of that, and given that the current situation is favorable to Israel, it behooves the country to consider what might happen in the future and how it is likely to alter the correlation of forces, as the Marxists used to say. And change they will. Iran will continue to strengthen economically as sanctions crumble, and will become a nuclear power--or Khamenei will pass away and a power struggle will ensue which will fatally weaken the regime and give way to another. The Turkish government will come to its senses and stop taking self-destructive measures or it will drive Turkey towards joining the club of failed states.

IS will continue to spread throughout the Sunni northern arc and will eventually defeat the Kurds--or the coalition against it will triumph and it will implode into isolated pockets of conflict and control, similar to the fiefdoms of Hamas and Hezbollah and the Kurds of Iraq and Syria will declare independence. In Syria Bashar al-Assad will eventually reestablish control or the country will fragment into Alawite, Sunni and Kurdish segments.

In his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated a new strategy vis-à-vis the Palestinian problem: continue to strengthen ties with Egypt/Jordan/Saudi Arabia/UAE and let them impose a settlement. After all, it is in their interest to have both Gaza and the West Bank demilitarized, as witness the astonishing offer of President al-Sisi of Egypt to provide an area in the Sinai adjacent to Gaza to serve as a Palestinian state.

In the meantime Israel will continue to perfect its defensive military stance, with advanced Arrow anti-missile projectiles and other state-of-the-art weaponry. What could go very wrong?

Iran could achieve nuclear status, as it is very likely to do, and proceed to perfect miniaturization of nuclear weapons. Not so easy and not very quick, but an eventual threat to all its neighbors and to Israel, using terrorist proxies as delivery systems. Hezbollah could return in force to Lebanon after some sort of conclusion in Syria, take control of that martyrized country or at least the region south of the Litani River and attack Israel, not with rockets this time, but with guided missiles supplied by Iran. Hamas could overthrow the Fatah government in the West Bank either by elections or by a coup. Another coup in Jordan might overthrow the Hashemite monarchy. Economic collapse could result in anti-Sisi and anti-military backlash in Egypt and the return of a Muslim Brotherhood government.

All these things could happen, or some of them, or none. In the face of such monumental uncertainty, what should Israel do?

Continue to strengthen its defense forces and intelligence resources.

Pursue quiet diplomacy to solidify the southern arc from Egypt to the UAE, passing through Israel, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Offer Egypt a major program of technological collaboration, especially agro-tech.

Continue to tie the region together with a web of natural gas supply contracts.

Wait for the next U.S. administration and move to restore political ties, while continuing strong military ties.

Continue and strengthen relations with South Asian and Far Eastern countries.

Perhaps as important as all those measures taken together, address the widening social and economic disparities in Israeli society by facilitating access to productive capital assets for all the inhabitants of the country.

A perfect program? Nothing human is perfect, but some things are much better than others. Israel is currently in an enviable position, but it must adopt policies and strategies to enhance the positive elements and defend against the negative developments that are sure to take place.

The present is the future in embryo, and embryos are fragile entities and must be nurtured and protected.

Norman A. Bailey, Ph.D., is Adjunct Professor of Economic Statecraft at The Institute of World Politics, Washington, DC, and teaches at the Center for National Security Studies and Geostrategy, University of Haifa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 27, 2014

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

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